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How does my family medical history affect life insurance premiums?

Happy family at the beachWhen an insurer is offering you a quote for single or joint life cover, it wants to know what it is protecting. How old are you? Have you suffered a serious illness? Are you overweight? Do you smoke?

If you’ve got high blood pressure and smoke heavily, for example, your insurer will assume there is a greater chance you will die during the term of your life policy, and it will have to pay up. It will therefore charge you a higher premium, to reflect your lower life expectancy. Insurance is brutal like that.

If you smoke, are overweight, or suffer from diabetes, cancer, bowel problems, high blood pressure, or depression, stress and anxiety, you may have to pay more for cover. That’s because insurance company underwriters consider these to be some of the biggest threats to your health.

Life insurance details insurers want to know

The underwriters don’t just want to know about your personal state of health. Increasingly, they want to know about your family’s medical history as well. If your parents and any brothers or sisters have suffered a serious medical condition, there is unfortunately a greater chance that you will fall victim as well.

Your insurer doesn’t care if your father broke his ankle playing football when he was 15: it is looking out for inherited conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. If a close member in your family has had any of these serious conditions, the insurer could bump up your premiums.

Insurance underwriters may seem a cold-hearted bunch, calculating your life expectancy and charging you more if there is a greater risk that you will die early, but that’s how life insurance works.

The alternative would be to charge everybody the same, but this would be unfair on healthy people with long life expectancies. It would also push up the cost of insurance for everybody, as people in poor health would have an incentive to take out large amounts of cover, and insurers would have to charge more to pay their claims.

Don’t run the risk of hiding the truth

When you apply for life insurance, you will be asked to complete a questionnaire. If this throws up any health issues, most life insurers will write to your GP for details of your personal medical history, especially if you are buying a large amount of cover. In some cases, it may also ask you to take a medical examination before you can be insured.

Don’t be tempted to skate over any medical problems in the hope of getting a cheaper premium. If these emerge after you die, which is likely – insurers look closely at these things – you will be considered in breach of your policy conditions, and the payout may be refused.

The effect of illness on your life premium

The impact of any medical problems on your life premiums will depend on the illness. If you have personally suffered cancer, for example, you will need to be clear of symptoms for at least five years before most insurers will offer you protection. If you have Type I diabetes, you could pay two or three times as much for cover.

As far as family history is concerned, your insurer’s attitude will depend on the condition, how many family members were affected, and how old they were at the time. If only one of your close relatives was affected, it may have little or no impact on your life insurance premiums. It depends on the insurer.

The insurer will only be looking for family illnesses that were diagnosed before age 60 or 65. If they were diagnosed after that, they will almost certainly disregard them.
If there is a history of illness in the family, your life insurer will either charge you more or may even exclude that particular condition from cover, while covering all other conditions in the usual way.

Different insurers have different underwriting rules, and some may ignore family history altogether. So it is well worth comparing quotes to find the best deal for your personal circumstances.

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